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The effects of slavery permeate our society to this day

After reading and posting about that PBS documentary on slavery that will be airing soon, I remembered a really interesting exchange about race and politics with Shakespeare’s Sister a while back on race and politics. Go here for a good read. I will include some of what I said there below, since it is relevant to that last slavery post. The effects of slavery permeate our society to this day. I say this not to indict the dominant culture; it is only to say that the subtle (and in some cases, not so subtle) racism is so ingrained that people on both sides of the color line react and act on it without thinking. I relate this to the terrible self-loathing many black women have about their hair texture. Light skinned house slaves with straight hair, were favored, and for some, they were even able to “pass.” The whole “good hair/bad hair” pathology was handed down from generation to generation, as a sign of favorable treatment that one would receive for having straight hair — you were closer to white. White is Right. The whole brown paper bag test of the black upper class. All legacies of slavery that just will not die.

This ad implies that the woman got the job because her hair was chemically straightened. Sick. For my own hair journey, visit my web page on it.

The status quo is to straighten your hair; this is clearly an internalized self-loathing and assimilationist mindset that is poisonous. Women are chastized by family and significant others not to 1) cut their hair or 2) let it be kinky. It’s a sickness. Thank god I don’t have a family like that — they all had straightish hair anyway, I was the anomoly. But I have seen on the natural hair care YahooGroups some of the most hateful and strident flame wars over the subject of hair. And most of the proponents of hair straightening were of the conservative bent. So strange. Read this this essay on the politics of hair. Amazing.

…It’s clear from the time you are very very young that there is “good hair” and “bad hair” and you’re never told why this is. That hot comb or kiddie relaxer is used on 3 and 4 year olds without a second thought.

By the time a young girl is school age, she doesn’t even know what her natural hair texture feels like. That’s why you see so many adult black women seeking out information on how to style natural hair (locs, twists, twist-outs, etc.). The styling implements (combs, brushes, conditioners, etc.) used in the dominant culture just cannot be used on kinky hair without often breaking or damaging it. Their mothers have no idea how to handle natural hair other than to “tame” it. You get messages like “you won’t get a man if your hair isn’t straight” or “you’ll shame the family with that bushy head”. Crazy crap like that. It’s as if kinky hair is some dreaded leprosy or hairy mole you want to hide. Oh, and it’s reinforced in the media. Surf over to BET rap videos, and you’ll see the ‘hos dancing around with straight, processed hair (or it’s a weave). Black men have been conditioned to dislike kinky hair on women as well. Anyway, I’m glad I stopped using that relaxer crap on my head years ago. So toxic.

The awful legacy of racism should sensitize the black community regarding the bigotry of homophobia, but as you’ve read on the Blend, it’s non-existent for many of the black religious leaders being courted by the Bush administration. My comments back in that exchange with SS are relevant now.

[The] increasingly hostile reception gay rights is receiving in the Civil Rights Movement™ is odd. My reference there by using the ™ is obviously making a point. I do think that the black community has co-opted this term to mean “black civil rights,” since the movement itself is still a living memory for those that experienced Jim Crow.

There is no comparison to slavery and the impact that it has had on this country for good (the economic power and wealth of this country was built on the backs of the slaves) or ill (the fact these human beings were bought and sold and treated like animals).

I see two distinct groups in the black community that seem to be angry about gay rights, with some people in both camps…

1) The Civil Rights Movement™ people: These folks only see things in terms of what I described above — that the black/slavery struggle is unique and that gays have no business trying to appropriate the frame of that movement. Gays were never slaves, imported from another continent, etc. Gays, they believe, can pass and choose not to reveal their identity (those that are transgendered are usually overlooked in this argument). Skin color is immutable. I think these folks can be won over with persuasive framing of constitutionality and human rights with the issue. They can be shown that this not a zero-sum game. Gays seeking the right to not be fired in a job or to marry because of who they love does not diminish the struggle of the Rights Movement™ of the 1950s/60s.

2) the Hellfire-Brimstone religious blacks: these folks, like the Woodson/Upper Room homophobes, just see gays as sinful and undeserving of any rights at all. These people cannot be reasoned with, and are, in fact, dangerous to the black community. This is the crowd that scares black men, in particular, who are gay, into going on the DL, secretly sleeping with men on the sly and maintaining sexual/marital relationships with women, potentially spreading HIV. As far as these church folks are concerned, being gay is a white thing. If you’re black, religious (in the traditional church) and gay, it’s extremely hard to come out to family and church members without fear of reprisal and isolation from the community. I think these people represent fertile ground for recruitment by the Right.

An interesting fact about the religious black community — it is so conservative that you will find that this is the group of people that give women a really hard time for going natural (hair).

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding